A couple of years ago we decided to move back to the city after living in the ‘Burbs for over 15 years. We were excited on many counts, but one of the main objectives was to be near “our people” again. As much as I am a proponent of natural spirituality in the country, I must admit the day we moved in, I was thrilled to hear the sounds of neighbors talking as they walked past our home to the corner coffee shop. It felt like home. People actually stopped to say hello, or comment on the flowers on the porch as they walked their dogs. Although we didn’t know them, we quickly began to feel connected to others on a different level that we had while living away from the city.
Cities can reveal the breathtaking creativity of humanity. Amazing architecture, beautiful parks and public art have been set aside for our viewing pleasures. The City inspires gourmet meals, gala events and all kinds of cool stuff placed in stores for our spending pleasures. However, it easily gets off track when wallowing in the excesses of its creativity and materialism; for the city also reveals people who have lost their way, their jobs, or purpose in life. In the city we see increased isolation, violence and homelessness. Perhaps they, like Jesus, refer to themselves as “the Son (s and Daughters) of Man who have nowhere to lay their heads” at night.
The big question is this: How they do we respond to all of this? Do we take the time to talk to people on the street, or in the supermarket? Can we stop to buy a Real Change paper from the street vendor? Or do we just ignore them as we rush on by? The city is a good place to ask ourselves if we are allowing the plight of others to affect us, or change our outlook in life. We experience spiritual growth when we allow our hearts to be moved by humanity. When we stop to encounter others, our spirituality usually comes to life.
Many years ago I operated a retail nursery, and my Aunt Dorothy (now 97 yrs old!) came to work with us for a season. Although she came to help me get a grip on the art of retail trade, the best lesson she taught our staff was how to love each person who walked through the door. For instance…when a middle aged man came to the counter with an arm full of flowers, she would greet him with a warm smile and say something like “O, My, those are gorgeous! Are they for your Sweetheart?” The man would beam and nod, pleased to be recognized by a charming older woman for doing his good husbandly deed of the day. Dorothy would then lower her voice in a playful manner and say; ”You know, you really ought to go back and get some for your wife as well!” She could get away with teasing comments like that because customers could sense she genuinely loved their interactions. Dorothy demonstrated that every person is worthy of a pleasant greeting and respect.
The city has unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth. It begins when we take the time to make use of those “I – Thou” moments with the strangers in our lives. A smile here, a door held open there, coffee with a friend, a walk in the park, thanking the cashiers at the market for their help; If we believe that humankind was uniquely “made in the image of God,” then each person can reveal a new perspective of God’s character to us. If we take the time to acknowledge and observer the beauty in others, we may be lucky enough to discover something spiritually significant being birthed into our own life. If Spirituality is a term of connection….then the city is definitely a place of God’s presence.